Monday, June 26, 2006

Long Way South, by JJ72

I vividly remember the first time I heard JJ72. I had been out with some friends, one of whom had a friend who was a DJ who didn’t particularly like me, though he was certainly making a concerted effort to be nice to me despite that fact, and I had decided to meet him halfway. After the club we were drinking in this guy’s house, and he and I were talking about our mutual love of Joy Division. He mentioned that, in his capacity as a DJ, he had recently been sent a 4 track CD by a new band, local and young, and he was struck by the similarity of one song to Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control. He played the song, and as it started he was wondering aloud whether the bassline was a case of blatant pilfering, or a homage, but after a few seconds I stopped paying any attention to him.

In retrospect, I know it couldn’t have been the lyrics that grabbed my attention, because I could only snatch a few words of what was being said, though the “magic mixed with mud” image impressed me right away. It had to have been the vocals. The whole song had a sense of urgency to it, communicated by every single element – the looped drumbeat; the bass which was played, Joy Division-style, like a guitar; the fact that the singer tripped over some words as though he was in a rush, reducing three syllable words to two syllables; the way that the song doesn’t end, per se, it stops, in much the same way as something stops when it collides with a wall – it seemed as though the instruments were plugged out or snatched from the band before they could finish; the lyric even ends mid-sentence. But the vocals were absolutely startling, and it was these which impressed me most on first hearing. Mark Greaney’s voice is generally described as one you either love or hate but, regardless of preference, the most used adjective to describe his voice seems to be “plaintive”, and this vocal is a perfect illustration of that claim. By the end of the first line he is practically screaming, even when he drops a few octaves in the next line, he is screaming again before the chorus. It reminded me of something, and it was months later before I figured out what that was.

I read the lyrics printed in the inlay card when the song was finally released and finally the proverbial bell rang; the singer didn’t just sound pained, the song was actually about the experience of being in pain. That was what it had reminded me of; the occasional surge of particularly bad pain against a background of dull, repetitive pain, the difficulty of articulating that, the bizarre flights of fancy one is prone to under these circumstances, and the sense that one is under physical attack despite outward appearances to the contrary. I hadn’t known this when I first heard it, but the sense was there nonetheless, and this trait – every element combining to communicate the sense of what the song is about, before the lyrics enter the picture – is a trait of every note of every song this band produced.

Everyone who has ever really, really, loved a band has had an experience where they thought, however irrationally, that that band really spoke to them; to the kind of thoughts and feelings they had but could not express. Even though I was 20 at the time, and not an excitable teenager, this was one of those experiences for me, the last one I’ve had, and one that was later to become the start of something far more serious.

Long Way South lasts only 2 minutes 51 seconds, but it was enough to signal the beginning of a love affair.

No comments: